2016-03-31 / Front Page

City Labor Contract Inked

By Barry Bridges

After months of negotiations, the Newport City Council has approved a new multi-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) for members of Local 911, Council 94, of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The vote on Wednesday, March 23, was unanimous at 6-0, with Councilor Kathryn Leonard not in attendance at the meeting.

Although the vote was a quick one with no discussion, Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano told Newport This Week that councilors have been kept informed of the progress of negotiations and were familiar with the agreed terms. She said that just over 100 city employees belong to the union and will fall under the contract.

The city administration and AFSCME have been working on a new CBA since the expiration of the last contract in June of 2015. The agreement is retroactive to that date and extends through June 30, 2018.

Under the new provisions, AFSCME members will receive a 2.25 percent salary increase retroactive to July 1, 2015. Additional cost of living adjustments of at least 1.9 percent will kick in on July 1, 2016 and July 1, 2017. The COLAs will depend on the increases received by nonunion executive and administrative employees.

Although the city will absorb more costs in salaries and related benefits, savings will be seen in health insurance expenditures and retiree benefits. According to figures provided by City Manager Joseph Nicholson, the total fiscal increase to the city’s bottom line will be $903,263 over the three-year agreement.

Napolitano also said that financial implications beyond the three years of the contract are important to consider, noting that long-term benefits for the city justified the up-front expenses in salaries.

“The big issues in negotiating were with pensions and health benefits,” she said. “These things would normally be nonnegotiable, but the only way to make changes is to offer something in return.”

“The out years, beyond the three-year term of the contract, are what people often don’t think about,” she continued. “The longterm is so beneficial to the city that it was certainly worth it to give a bump in salary to get these other savings.”

The AFSCME agreement is the latest in a series of recently-executed city labor contracts.

At their last meeting of 2015, councilors unanimously approved contracts with the city’s firefighters and mid-management supervisors.

The three-year agreement with Newport Firefighters Local 1080 is retroactive to July 1, 2015 and runs through June 30, 2018. Its terms give firefighters a 2.25 percent salary increase from the effective date and provides additional two percent bumps in 2016 and 2017, equating to a 6.25 percent total increase over the life of the contract.

The city’s finance staff calculated that the compounded costs to the city for the higher firefighter salaries over the three-year term will be $806,903. The city will also incur liabilities for increased clothing allowances and rescue pay, bringing the total of additional municipal expenditures to $969,893.

However, those costs will be largely offset through future savings realized through changes in sick leave payout policies and vacation accruals for new hires ($576,000), as well as a new plan for health insurance deductibles ($358,923), meaning that the city’s net increased costs under the firefighters’ agreement is $34,970.

The second December contract was inked with the NEARI Supervisors Union, whose last agreement also expired last summer. The parties agreed to terms retroactive to July 1, 2015 that spans until June 30, 2019. Because Rhode Island law imposes a three-year maximum duration for CBAs, the council actually approved two NEARI contracts: the first is effective until June 30, 2016, and the second continues from there, running through June 30, 2019.

NEARI employees received a 2.25 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2015, and in each of 2016, 2017, and 2018 will draw salary increases of 1.9 percent or the percentage increase awarded to nonunion executive and administrative employees.

Newport’s finance department reported that the cumulative fiscal impact of the city’s two dozen NEARI employees would be $339,314 in increased salaries and related benefits.

In December of 2014, the council ratified two new police contracts that grant officers pay increases of 10 percent over four years. A one-year agreement provided for a salary increase of 2.5 percent retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014, and a three-year pact gave additional 2.5 percent raises in July of 2014 and 2015, with another due in 2016. According to city staff, those increases total $1.26 million, but costs savings are being realized through reductions in municipal pension and health insurance costs.

Newport school employees also saw contracts negotiated and finalized with the School Committee late last year.

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